The influence of sample selection on the structure of psychopathology symptom networks: An example with alcohol use disorder.

Increasingly, the structure of mental disorders has been studied in the form of a network, characterizing how symptoms or criteria interact with and influence each other. Many studies of psychiatric symptoms and diagnostic criteria employ community or population-based surveys using co-occurrence of the symptoms/criteria to form the networks. However, given the overall low prevalence rates of mental disorders and their symptoms in the general population, most of those surveyed may not exhibit or endorse any symptoms and yet are often included in network analyses. Consequently, because network models are built on associations between symptoms/criteria, much of the observed variability is driven by individuals who are asymptomatic. Using data from the National Epidemiological Survey of Alcohol and Related Conditions (NESARC) Wave 2 and NESARC-III, we explore the effect of these “asymptomatic” observations on the estimated relations among diagnostic criteria of alcohol use disorder to determine the effects of such observations on estimated networks. We do so using the eLasso tool, as well as with traditional measures of correlation between binary variables (the Φ coefficient and odds ratio). We find that when the proportion of asymptomatic individuals are systematically culled from the sample, the estimated pairwise relations are often significantly affected, even changing signs in some cases. Our findings indicate that researchers should carefully consider the population(s) included in their sample and the implications it has on their interpretations of pairwise similarity estimates and resulting generalizability and reproducibility of estimates of network structures. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2019 APA, all rights reserved)